Saturday, July 25, 2015

tips: road tripping new zealand

New Zealand is a wonderful country for a road trip. The roads are usually wide open and the scenery is stunning. That said, there are some things to know and consider before hitting the road.

drive on the left 
Simple enough, right? Wrong. We chanted left-left-left-left the first few days we drove around the South Island, and on more than one occasion, one of us pulled into the wrong lane when entering or leaving a roadway. We also watched a rental van drive for a scary long time on the wrong side of the road in front of us. It was pure luck no accident occurred. In hindsight, we really should have sped up and honked and honked to help the driver realize his mistake. Some roads are very windy with fast speed limits, and accidents can happen very quickly. Drive very carefully in the beginning if you come from a country that drives on the right. 

pull over safely
Once again, this sounds simple enough. We all know better than to slam on the brakes in the middle of the road to stop and gawk at something, but the beautiful scenery will blow your mind, and you will want to stop and take pictures. Just don't be stupid about it. Even pulling over onto the shoulder can be very dangerous on a single lane, narrow, windy road with a fast speed limit. I found that many places have designated rest stops with great views just for this reason. The pictures you will get from these rest stops are typically much nicer than the ones you can get from the side (or the middle) of the road anyway! 

know your route
It is important to know some things before hitting the road. For example, there is no gas station from Te Anau to Milford Sound. That is a three hour drive, and I am sure some people realized too late that there were no options to fill up along Highway 94. Doing some simple research, especially before heading into the more remote locations of the country like Fiordland National Park, can help you avoid headaches later. 

pay attention to signs
They are there! You just have to actually notice them! They tell you critical information like the lights regulating traffic in and out of the Homer Tunnel will turn off at 8pm. That and all the internal lighting as well. Maybe you would care about that because as someone who did not pay attention to signs, I can attest that driving through the pitch black, narrow tunnel not knowing if anything was headed our way was kinda scary. 

wear sunscreen
Reminder: you can get sunburned through your rental's windows, and what a sad way to get sunburned. NZ's rays are strong, and you will want to lather on the sunscreen if you are sitting in the front. Don't forget the tops of your thighs either! Ouch! 

choose the most coverage
Just do it. You will kick yourself if you don't and then need it later. We opted for the best insurance because, you know, what if? It was sure a good thing too! Our SUV was broken into the very first night we had it; the back window was completely smashed in and we had to get a new one the next day. We were not charged a cent. Then, we ended up with our third rental when something started acting funny half way through the road trip. Once again, due to the insurance, the swap was free and easy. I guess this also begs the point: choose overnight parking carefully. Our car was broken into while on hotel parking property. 

don't leave stuff in the car
Easier said than done, but just be careful. Sometimes you will need to leave your car in remote parking lots to hike up a mountain. Make it so your car is not a target by making sure you don't leave anything enticing or anything that could look potentially enticing in the back. 

get lost occasionally
NZ calls for a certain spirit of adventure. It is so easy to be beckoned down meandering roads. Sometimes those roads lead nowhere, and you have to turn around, but sometimes they also take you through the most beautiful and the most remote places in the world and the 20 or 30 minute trek off course is totally worth those moments of adventure and awe and excitement. 

allow for more time
Research the drive times, but know they will take longer. You are going to want to stop to crawl under a cool bridge or take a picture or go to the bathroom. Your GPS may lie to you too, or you may end up stuck behind someone driving reeeeeally slowly. Make sure if you are trying to make an appointment or be somewhere at a certain time that you cushion your drive a little by leaving earlier than the drive time tells you to. 

expect the unexpected 
Life happens. When we were leaving Christchurch, a brush fire rerouted us. Our drive was on rural farm roads rather than the highway like we planned, and it took much longer due to speed limits and traffic.

prepare for some off roading 
Should you take your rental off roading if you did not plan to or properly insure yourself? Probably not, but we did not plan on doing any off roading, and this was our camp site at Mt. Cook. The drive was bumpy and required some navigating through bushes. If you plan to camp or head down south, you should probably expect to drive off road at some point in time. 

get the GPS, seriously
It knows more than you. Like, by a lot.

navigate bridges carefully
Many of NZ's bridges are true single lanes. Usually, before each bridge, there is a sign indicating which side has the automatic right of way. Even if it is you, stop before crossing. There could already be a car on the bridge, or someone could have failed to notice the signs directing the flow of traffic (or your car's approach). I think it's better to be safe than sorry with these bridges. 


I walked away from my NZ road trip itching to do it again ASAP. While I did not personally enjoy driving an SUV more than 60km per hour on the left hand side of the road on some of NZ's back roads with tricky bridges, I did thoroughly enjoy my husband and friends driving us all over the south and north islands! 

Friday, July 17, 2015

new zealand: our 3 week road trip

This past winter, we went on a 3-week road trip all over New Zealand. We rented an SUV and camped, sailed, hiked, and explored the rugged South Island. On the North Island, we rented a little car to experience some of the country's fun eccentricities. Here is our route for anyone planning their own adventure. While New Zealand is a small island country, there is so much to do and see and eat. Even after our hustle and bustle, I left feeling like I still had so much I wanted to experience and explore. New Zealand is definitely No. 1 on my list of places to revisit.

Duration: 1 night
Our international flight from South Korea landed in Auckland early in the morning. We got out of the airport and checked into our hotel. Confession: a large portion of this day was spent snoozing. Flying from just about anywhere to New Zealand is a loooong ordeal. Later in the evening, we hopped a cab downtown and wandered the waterfront. Downtown Auckland is walkable (and felt a lot like Seattle to me), and I enjoyed the cafe scene immensely. That said, I was itching to get out of the city and start our road trip.
Duration: 2 Nights
After spending one night in Auckland, we boarded an early morning JetStar flight to Christchurch. At first, we considered driving all the way to Wellington and then hopping a ferry and then driving some more to get here. While I know we missed some beautiful scenery because we did not drive, flying more than made up for it in the amount of time (days really) that we saved.

While in Christchurch, we ate really good food, got used to driving our SUV on the left hand side of the road, and embarked on some local adventures. We marveled at the Cardboard Cathedral, wandered through the botanical gardens, and took an impromptu trip to the seaside to visit a really big rock.
Duration: 1 night
We planned to leave Christchurch early in the morning for Lake Tepako, but we ran into some pretty serious setbacks. The first was discovering that our SUV had been broken into the previous night. We had to get new camping equipment and a new car because of this. We got premium insurance on our rental and were very pleased with how easy it was to exchange SUVs.

To throw another wrench in our plans, on the way out of town, we encountered brush fires and had to take a detour. I soon discovered that detours in New Zealand are not so bad because, well, everything is pretty. Eventually, we found our way to Lake Tekapo around dusk. We quickly set up our tents, and then watched the sunset paint everything beautiful shades of gold. I fell asleep with a huge grin on my face. This is why I flew nearly to the ends of the world.
Duration: 1 night
Before leaving Lake Tepako, we visited the Church of the Good Shepherd, and then climbed a mountain! This was easily my favorite day in New Zealand. After snapping a billion photos and working up a good sweat, we hit the road. Our destination was Mt. Cook. I have to tell you that it is extremely difficult to drive for more than five minutes in New Zealand before wanting to stop to take a picture. We were responsible and only pulled over at designated rest spots, but eventually, we just kept reminding ourselves that the view we would have from our campsite would be far better than any view from the road, so we put the pedal to the medal and made it to our campsite. We meticulously chose where we set up our tents so we would have an optimal view of the peak. Hilarity (and chaos) struck when in the middle of the night a gale force windstorm arrived and snapped our tent poles. At one point, I was holding up our tent with my feet! We broke camp before sunrise (and one day early) and booked it to Queenstown.
Duration: 3 nights 
While I was bummed that we had to leave Mount Cook a day early due to weather, Queenstown did offer plenty consolation. Our apartment was right on the water, and I spent a lot of time on the balcony admiring the Remarkables, the mountain range that juts up behind Lake Wakatipu. Queenstown was the perfect place to recoup after the whirlwind that was the first leg of our trip. 

We spent a lot of time wandering the waterfront and climbing on big rocks. We also got stuck on a broken down gondola for nearly two hours, but in the end, the funny stories I get to tell about the fiasco made the misadventure completely worthwhile. 
Duration: 2 nights
Along the road to Milford Sound, we stopped to tour a network of glow worm caves. No cameras were allowed in the caves, and I am so glad. You only have a few short minutes to be mesmerized by the experience, and I tried so hard not to blink so I wouldn't miss anything. Then, as we drove the twisty, windy Highway 94, we had to stop a gazillion times to marvel at everything that is Milford Sound. We spent two (rather wet & soggy) nights camping in the sound, and we even took a cruise! These two days were like eating your favorite dessert-- delicious and decadent but gone before you know it and leaving you wanting more. 
Duration: 3 nights
When we left Milford Sound, we knew we were done camping. Our gear was broken from the windstorm we encountered at Mount Cook and soaked from the rain that poured in Milford Sound. Instead of camping at some farm on the coast as planned, we drove a long way to Dunedin. While in Dunedin, we visited a penguin reserve, toured the Cadbury factory (and ate way.too.much chocolate), hiked out to the Nugget Point lighthouse, and took a train inland to see the Taieri plain and gorge. 
Duration: 1 night
To break up the drive from Dunedin to Christchurch, we stopped for lunch at the Moeraki Boulders. We spent the afternoon walking down the beach and crawling all over the bizarre rocks. We got back to Christchurch late and ate really good tacos from a taco truck in the parking lot where our SUV was broken into before we left on our southern island road trip. I was super sad to be leaving the South Island. 
Duration: 2 nights
After an early morning flight, we landed in Auckland. While in the city, we took a ferry to Rangitoto Island and climbed a volcano. We also watched a rugby game, which was both amusing and confusing at the same time. We stayed in the Jucy Hotel, which was...special. We stayed in a four person room on Valentine's Day and laughed about it nearly the whole time. I was glad to see the backside of Auckland when we drove out of the city.
Duration: 3 nights
We drove in criss crosses all over the northern island while trying to find Hobbiton. The set lies hidden in gently rolling farm country, and more than once we were convinced that our GPS was lying to us about how to get there. We made it to the film set just in time to grab lunch before our tour began. Nerding out over the Lord of the Rings was sublime. We got to drink at the Green Dragon and take pictures of hobbit holes.

We then drove the twistiest and windiest road of the trip, which left three of us out of the car at one point trying not to barf, on our way to Whitianga, a quiet, sleepy coastal community. While in town, we hiked to Cathedral Cove to chill out on a sandy beach.  
Duration: 1 night
We came back to Auckland just in time to return our Jucy rental and eat one last meal before going to bed. Our flight left for South Korea early in the morning the next day.


Our trip was so much fun and such an adventure. Soon, I will post some tips and personal advice about our route. If you have any practical questions about rentals, camp sites, or activities, I would be more than happy to provide more specifics! 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

my fur family

Meet my fur family! 
This is Saki!
She is my brother-in-law's puppy.
She is so cute and rambunctious and sweet.
She loves to play and she is learning to sniff out the weakest link who will always give her treats (read: me).
We had so much fun at the ocean!
This is Koda.
11 years ago, I went with my husband's family to the airport to pick up Koda.
He is surly and weird and the cutest oddball I have ever met.
He's getting old and barely tolerates Saki, but they are learning to get along.
We had a lot of fun digging holes in the sand!
These are my brother's dogs, Zeus + Jane.
My brother and I picked out Zeus from a rescue shelter.
Zeus took one look at Joel and chose him.
I love this dog so much.
His personality and his heart are just so big and full of love.
When I first saw him after two years away in Taiwan, he gave me the biggest doggie hug.

Jane is their newest addition.
She thinks she's a lap dog.
I am totally in love with her too!
And this is Sasha, a Great Dane I met on the beach the other day.
He's not family, but I fell head over heels in love with him.
I reeeeeally want a Great Dane (three actually, and I already know their names: Doc, Gus and Bo).
I was really grateful that Sasha's people let me hang out with them for a while at the ocean so I could get to know him.
If you are not a dog person, you may not understand this, but I miss these pups so much when I am away, and seeing them over the summer brings us so much joy!